Army testing new camouflage
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 20, 2009
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Soldiers heading to Afghanistan could soon be issued new combat uniforms that would offer better camouflage based on their operating environments.
Two 4th Infantry Division battalions are wear-testing new uniforms in eastern Afghanistan right now, according to Col. Bill Cole, a project manager for soldier protection and individual equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier. And a decision could be made by early February to field new uniforms to all soldiers heading downrange.
Soldiers who have served in Afghanistan had identified the need for camouflage uniforms that better conceal troops operating there, according to Col. Scott Mills, of the Army’s Logistics Directorate.
And the issue caught the attention of the House Armed Services Committee after congressmen visited Army leaders at U.S. bases.
The current uniforms do more to “put our soldiers in harm’s way than to protect them,” lawmakers said in a letter sent to the Pentagon.
“Congress expressed urgency to provide something immediately,” Cole said.
The Army Combat Uniform digital universal camouflage pattern currently being worn by soldiers worked well in Iraq’s arid and urban areas, but Afghanistan has a more varied environment, he said.
“As we move into Afghanistan and start encountering a myriad of different environments, we wanted to see if we could come up with something better,” Cole said.
“The Himalayas start there. There are irrigated areas with croplands,” he said. “In a day, soldiers can pass through two or three of these environments so the challenges there are quite daunting.”
As part of the effort to find the right camouflage, the 4th ID’s 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment is wearing a pattern called “MultiCam,” which is popular with recreational paintball players and some Special Forces troops. The 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment is testing a pattern known as UCP Delta — a variation on the digital pattern that appears on ACUs, but with 30 percent less sand- and grey-colored areas and added “coyote brown” splotches.
Soldiers from the units will be surveyed early next month to gauge their opinions about the new uniforms, said Lt. Col. Mike Sloane, a project manager for soldier clothing and individual equipment.
Another part of the research involved a team of nine personnel, including a photographer, engineers and Special Forces operators, deploying to Afghanistan in October with six uniforms featuring different camouflage patterns, Sloane said. Soldiers wearing the different uniforms were photographed walking and in tactical poses in the different environments in Afghanistan, including mountainous areas, deserts, cropland, orchards and woodlands.
The photographs — taken at ranges between 50 and 400 meters — were then blended into photo simulations on computer screens and shown to troops who were asked to spot soldiers wearing various uniforms moving toward them in the different environments.
“That research is taking place right now,” Sloane said. “We are running the photo simulations with hundreds of recently deployed soldiers at Fort. Drum, N.Y., Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Campbell, Ky.”
Comments from the soldiers testing the uniforms and the data from the photo simulation tests will be presented to Army leaders in late January, Cole said, along with recommendations on what to do about camouflage in Afghanistan.
A decision on any new camouflage pattern is expected by the first week of February, he said.
“I doubt it will be no change,” Cole said.
“It could be we will have special camouflage options for soldiers in certain areas or it could be for soldiers all over Afghanistan,” he said. “It could be for certain soldiers with certain MOSs (military occupational specialties). Infantrymen who operate dismounted need camouflage more than guys fixing tanks on a base.”